We've gone hands-on with the first few hours of the Arkane Studios game, to get into the nitty-gritty of its perplexing storyline.
In a few short weeks, Arkane will be releasing its next, highly anticipated title, Deathloop. Built around an admittedly challenging to perceive concept that asks you to endlessly repeat a single day as the protagonist Colt, amassing information and knowledge so that you can perform what is regarded as the impossible: assassinating eight targets who are never in the same place at once, without being killed by your nemesis, Julianna - this game is one of the most ambitious offerings we've ever seen from the studio.
Ahead of launch, I've been able to go hands-on with Deathloop, exploring the first few hours of the game, and diving into the nitty-gritty to unravel the perplexing storyline. And so far, without foreshadowing too much, this is shaping up to be a rather incredible experience.
The storyline, which I won't delve too far into as it is spoiler-heavy from the get-go, is relatively linear, in that you can plan where you go next, and even explore the locations you choose to visit at your own pace, but at the same time, you always head to a new location with a mission in mind, for example to eliminate a target. This means that you can't just solve the conundrum on your first day, as you need gate codes, extra abilities, general knowledge of your surroundings, as a few examples, to be able to set up the swift chain of assassinations that will in turn break the loop trapping you on the island of Blackreef.
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Progressing the storyline will require you to look at it like a mystery to be solved, discovering clues to reveal new information and openings. That's the core design of Deathloop. You'll be returning to the same locations, albeit with the option to do so at different times of day, to do something slightly different, to learn a little more, and therefore discover how you can complete this impossible feat. And, you might be worried that this repetitive nature could feel a little dull after the first few days, but the design of Blackreef, the narrative, and the abilities at your disposal keep Deathloop engaging pretty much at all times.
Blackreef itself is split into a variety of locations, each of which have their own unique landmarks and points of interest. You'll learn that the eight targets (also known as Visionaries) will frequent different places within these locations at various points throughout the day. It's your job to find out when, and also the best way to reach them.
The design of the world is typical Arkane, and any Dishonored fan will feel right at home here, even if the steampunky style of Dunwall has been replaced with a 1960s-esque overtone, the sort of design we saw in Compulsion Games' We Happy Few. The island of Blackreef is lovingly sculpted, and packed to the brim with content, so much so that you feel as though there's something new around every corner, driving that desire to explore.
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The Dishonored similarities don't stop there, as Deathloop feels like an Arkane game in the way it handles. The control scheme can be a little wonky at times, but the combat is thoroughly engaging and action-packed, and is built in a way that you can truly approach it in your own style. Whether you fancy the direct approach, lighting up the island with an array of muzzle flashes and fancy abilities that can assist with eliminating enemies much faster and help manoeuvre the landscape, or instead prefer flying below the radar using stealth to such skill that Corvo himself would be impressed, the options are there from minute one. Granted, the replayable nature of Deathloop does encourage you to be a little sneakier earlier on as you look to build out your arsenal, but it is by no means a requirement.
Which brings me onto the aspect of Deathloop that seems to draw the most concern: player progression. Despite the day repeating at the conclusion of the evening time period, players can use a system known as infusion to permanently save gear. This requires you to interact with prismatic looking items to suck a strange essence out of them called Residium, which is a currency that is used in infusing gear. The system will only allow you to save a few items after each day, assuming you do your exploration homework and take your time to gather as much Residium as possible, but the design does mean that the most powerful and important weapons, abilities and perks can be saved to be used whenever you want in the future.
You can use any gear you've infused as part of your active loadout before heading out on a new day. Likewise, if you're moving to say Noon, Afternoon, or Evening on that same day, you can take any gear you've grabbed along with you. But, at the end of the day, any non-infused items, and any spare Residium will be lost, so it's crucial to save what you can - hence where the roguelike comparisons of Deathloop sprouted from.
It's no secret that Arkane knows how to make a great action-adventure game, and Deathloop is looking to be the continuation/pinnacle of that. On the PlayStation 5, the game looks incredible, plays smoothly, and displays a masterclass of DualSense integration. You can look forward to varied notes of haptic feedback, from feeling the steps of Colt's movement, to the rumble of firing an automatic weapon, and on top of that, there's adaptive triggers that add further immersion to the gunplay, and those are only two of many examples.
The only major area of Deathloop I'm yet to really experience is Julianna's invasions. Across several hours of gameplay, I've encountered the character once, and due that being early on, I choose to evade her, rather than risk my life attempting to eliminate her. Needless to say, this feature doesn't seem to be that intrusive, which in my eyes is actually a positive, as the narrative is so rich that you'll want to focus your efforts on that, rather than being stuck in a game of cat and mouse.
Looking at the bigger picture, Deathloop has a lot going on, but it's handled in such a delicate and informative way that after around 90 minutes, the game will shed its confusing stigma, and make sense to you, the player. If you like Arkane games, particularly Dishonored, then this will be right up your street, and if not, the unique storyline, and the way that it tells it, is definitely worth your attention.